[9 August 2005]
PopMatters Books Editor
Jill Kelly’s the luckiest girl alive. Not because of her big boobs, or her lush skin, or her perfectly un-perfect waves of platinum blonde hair. Not even because she makes mega-bucks with her movie career, strutting her stuff in pornographic blockbusters like Pussy Grinders, Nymph, and—wait for it—Fuck My Dirty Shit Hole. Jill Kelly is lucky because she’s got a guy writing poetry for her. Check it out:
No clean-cur air-brushed auto-shop pin-up;
It’s dirt-box zoom-ins & spunk on a C-cup;
Puritans can preach & declare it obscene,
But I still love you my anal queen
So it is possible to be crude and adorable at the same time. This is Alessandro Porco’s love-dedication to Jill Kelly, she of the gravity defying nipples and, perhaps, third in line to Jenna Jameson’s coveted Porn Queen throne. While Kelly is his primary topic of choice, Porco’s slim book features poems about everything modern man should know about, from rap stars (“The Real G”) to tennis players (“Ode to Maria Sharapova”), Ben Affleck (“Good Will Hunting for Beaver”) and the Bush Twins (“Menage a Bush Twins”). And while those titles might sound too cheeky for their own good, it’s the casual and enormously sharp riffing of that modern man concept that shifts the book from casual smut to pointed gender study.
The Jill Kelly Poems suggests that man is a mixed up being, confused as well as titillated by the pornographic images that surround him on a daily basis, from sexy music videos to short skirts on the tennis court. Much of this confusion is analyzed in the book’s final chapter, The Porcoda (the other chapter are Bad Boys and The Jill Kelly Poems, Porco makes it clear that while he’s speaking for himself, he knows that you know that he knows he’s likely to have seen you, too, out on his porno landscape, possibly on the edge of the sofa, tissues in hand, searching for the remote to forget Fuck My Dirty Shit Hole even exists until your next lonely Wednesday night.
“While I do have an affection for Jill Kelly, I wouldn’t call it an obsession. Obsession is the sort of word one immediately associates with statements like, ‘Your Honor, my client promises to keep the court-ordered mandatory distance away from…’” Alessandro Porco talks about The Jill Kelly Poems, his ode to porn star that reveals a lot more about the male psyche than perhaps it intended.
The Jill Kelly Poems
by Alessandro Porco
March 2005, 60 pages, $16.95
It’s a sly wink, but not a snicker. Porco’s presentation of the porno-life is an authentic one. He writes from experience, outing himself consistently as a lustful, pervy Male, demonstrating no apparent shame along the way.
Porco all but revels in his lustiness. As the book goes on, his frankness becomes more and more refreshing. And the best part is, while he can dwell for stanzas about boobs, he’s entirely at home discussing the practice of poetry. His dedication to his craft is evident throughout his book. It’s course and confusing, but there’s something utterly wondrous about a collection that can go from this in “Jill Kelly’s Anal Philology”:
Simple. I like it. I mean it’s no
painting the dirtbox
flying the red-eye
driving the Hershey highway
plowing the cornhole
or earning your chocolate wings
—darlings of xxx lingo—
To this, in the book’s stand out piece, “23 Haiku”:
If distance makes love understandable, I’m a long-ways away
with no intention of returning.
This melding of the ultra-distasteful with the utterly beautiful helps in making the project so compelling. The momentary flashes (the skirt-lifting variety, most likely) of excellence like those sees in “23 Haiku” (and “My Boyfriend’s Obsessed with Larry Bird, and I’m Obsessed with Romance”, “King Kong Sonnet”, “Solarium”, among others) aren’t even close to representing Porco’s porno-life, instead working as development to the more explicit moments. If you look closely, too, those flashes even appear in the more dastardly pieces—“Jill Kelly’s Titty-Bop Sonnet”, for example, is one such ick-laden piece with a structure that leads to a final line rivaling Porco’s hero, Robert Herrick.
As a whole, Porco’s book is a defining comment on the sex-drenched modern world and how a guy can learn to delineate between the pleasures of Doin’ the Babysitter and the Aguilera-tease on MTV, and still find a girl to love him. While this need is not outwardly expressed in the book, Porco writes with a distinct yearning in his more personal, non-porn-related poems, revealing not a sad, lovesick puppy, but a flawed, confident man as in love with the sexier side of the female form as he is with the ugly, bumpy, realistic rest of it.
At times throughout the collection one wonders if Porco is, in fact, apologizing for something, (“Jill Kelly’s Retiremento Sentimento Cento”, for one, strips the taste for porn down to its bare essentials of brown paper parcels and stamps), but he’s otherwise lighthearted and downright funny as he ponders Ms Kelly’s—in his words—twiddles, pluggles, scuttles, and twattles.
PopMatters spoke to Alessandro Porco about love, poetry, and, of course, porn.
PopMatters: What’s your impression of poetry today?
Alessandro Porco: My impression of contemporary Canadian poetry is that it can be excellent, even great at times. But for the most part that isn’t the case, and that’s fine. I would say, though, to keep it brief, that poetry in Canada could use a bit more attitude; a bit more bravura; a bit more machismo; more stylistic flare; more pompom ra-ra-ra; more dexterity; or, as I often say, less superciliousness, more supersilliness.
I also think poets could learn a lot about the musicality of contemporary language (speed, duration, tempo, rhyme, accent) from listening to rap. My poem “To Be Carved on a Wall at Leonard Hall, Queen’s University,” for example, is both a result of my liking Paul Muldoon and Eminem (see specifically the third verse of “Lose Yourself”).
PM: Was it difficult to find a publisher for your collection?
AP: A couple of presses politely passed on early versions of the collection. But my publisher, ECW Press, has been completely amazing, and I am forever grateful that the book ended up in their hands; the book’s editor, Michael Holmes, never once suggested taking a word or a poem out on account of it perhaps being offensive or objectionable: it was, instead, always about the best interest of individual poems at hand and the collection as a whole. Furthermore, it’s been great to be published with a press like ECW, whose books I owned and admired prior to becoming one of their authors.
PM: What’s the point of pornographic movies?
AP: Just as it would be incorrect for one to uniformly generalize poetry as expressions of love alongside descriptions of nature, with timely interjections of references to Greek mythology, it would be incorrect to characterize adult-entertainment as a monological or homogeneous enterprise in terms of its aesthetics, performers, and or consumers—though people do that. Men and women come to invest in adult-entertainment films for a variety of reasons at various times in their lives; thus, correspondingly, there is a wide-range of modes and styles. Ultimately, though, its purpose is entertainment; sometimes it can really be fun; depending on the style, it can be aesthetically pleasing; and most often it’s just plain functional, in that it provides a satisfying stimulatory-simulatory service, both for individuals and couples and, dare I say, groups. Those all seem like valid enough reasons for being, though I’m sure there are plenty more.
PM: Can you remember your first celebrity obsession?
AP: The first poster I ever had on my wall: Shannen Doherty, during her 90210 days, looking sultry and flirtatious, with a hint of menace emanating from her smoke-stained crooked teeth. I’d like to say I’ve matured beyond such a thing, but as I prepare for a move to a new city this Fall, the only apartment decoration I am certain about is a poster that includes Britney Spears, Pink, and, my favourite, Christina Aguilera, all standing beside each other. Such a thing, as I imagine it, mounted above my desk, will provide moments of sweet reprieve while reading through the works of someone like Gilles Deleuze.
PM: Is it Jill Kelly as a woman, a porn actress, a representative of an ideal or an industry that you speak of in your work? Or is it simply an ode to an “anal queen”, as is suggested?
AP: Think of “Jill Kelly” less as a person and more as representative of a social space with its own native discourse, terms like “dirt-box” and “titty-bop” or phrases like “twiddle my twat” and “driving the Hershey highway” as part of its citizenry; but this exceptional space simultaneously allows for Gertrude Stein, the Renaissance, sound poetry, the practice of revisionist History, balladeering, and philology. And, in this sense, it’s a much more evolved locus—the kind of place I want to be, in fact, and the kind of place I want my readers to be, to experience, if only temporarily. (It’s easy to think of “Jill Kelly” as such, especially if one keeps in mind that her name itself is linguistic construct, a false signifier, a compound product of the performer’s two favourite characters from Charlie’s Angels.)
PM: Most of the published reviews of the book focus on its pop culture elements—do you see your writing as a specific response to pop culture or just a natural response to our current entertainment soaked reality? Frost wrote about nature, you’re writing about Will Smith and Christina Aguilera? Perhaps its about interest—does it seem as though there’s something wrong with writing poetry about Will Smith and Christina Aguilera instead of, say, nature or sport or love or something else?
AP: Obviously, after reading the book, most people come to understand I don’t see anything intrinsically bankrupt or hollow in writing poems about Christina Aguilera (“Ode to Christina Aguilera”) or quoting Will Smith and Jay-Z in an elegy for Eazy E (“The Real G”). Similarly, I don’t see anything intrinsically of value or substance in poems about heartbreak and/or the immigrant experience and/or the salmon-coloured sun. John Ashbery warned about this very thing, the complacent acceptance of preordained poetic values, 25 years ago, in “A Wave”—“And already the sky is getting to be less salmon-colored, / The black clouds more meaningless”.
What I’m talking about here is, essentially, “a semiotics of matter,” which is inscribed into the practice of poetry: certain subjects, and the ways we are expected to speak of said subjects, possess currency, while others, quite simply, don’t. Or, put another way, some subjects signify “Poetry” while others don’t. Ideally what one would have is “a semiotics of matter” that exists on a horizontal-egalitarian plane rather than vertical-hierarchical ladder (many writers, such as Charles Bernstein, have made similar comments). Of course, ideally I’d like to have sex with porn-stars on a regular basis too—but just because I wish it so doesn’t mean it will be! So my ideals can take a seat in line alongside everything and everyone else, kick back, and enjoy a brew and/or the view…
PM: Did you start out as one of those undergrad poets, trying to shock your classmates with villanelles about boobies, or something more interesting and fun and daring?
AP: To be honest I never did intend to write poetry. Prior to attending Queen’s University [in Kingston, Ontario], I was terribly unread, as all my energy until that point in my life had been focused on the study of music. I studied jazz-guitar pretty intensely throughout my teen years—chicks dig scars and guitars, and one of two ain’t bad! At eighteen I enrolled in an “Introduction to Literature” class, which surveyed the English tradition from Chaucer through to Eliot—at that point I hadn’t heard of either. To this day I remember the works that got me excited during that first year though: the poetry of Donne and Herrick, Byron and Browning. I’ve been hooked ever since; trying to catch up for all the time I missed. In 2004, I completed an MA in Literature from Concordia University; and this fall I am re-locating to Buffalo, NY to begin a PhD in Poetics and Film at the State University of New York.
In terms of my development I am lucky enough to have met two very influential people during my formative years as a poet (I’m still being formed, let’s face it, as I’m only 25): Carolyn Smart and David McGimpsey. Both are wonderful writers, teachers, and friends. They are always directing my attention to other writers, or films, or music that might further my interests and, in turn, add to my poetry’s overall texture.
But my undergraduate days were pretty average: a minor run-in-with-the-law here, a major, horrible relationship there. I did not then, and still do not, consider my writing “shocking”, in the sense that the words, phrases, and overall sentiments you might encounter in my poetry are commonly heard in any locker-room or basketball court or frat-house or dormitory. The major difference, however, is that of text (the various words or phrases or sentiments are located in poetry) and context (the language and/or ideology of the locker-room rarely infiltrates poetic culture). As such, perhaps “fun” and “daring” may be more appropriate descriptors. But that’s not really for me to say.
Anyhow if I had to hazard a guess, what’s most shocking is, paradoxically, just how traditional my poetry is—though of a tradition that isn’t as popular as it once was, to be sure.
PM: Were you ever concerned regarding the publication of what are clearly some ultra-personal pieces—or do you see confessional, balls-and-all writing in a different way?
AP: I once heard a scholar refer to Canadian poetry as a “nutless sundae”, so in that sense, it might be best to think of the book as an attempt to introduce an ignored masculinity, “balls-and-all,” into the contemporary Canadian poetic-landscape. Diderot, in one of his letters, once commented, “There is a bit of testicle at the bottom of our most sublime feelings and our purest tenderness.” Ultimately, however, this isn’t exactly winning me any dates with, say, female graduate students in the Liberal Arts or female poets—but I wouldn’t say I’m overly “concerned”, to borrow your word, with that: my love life’s fine. At the same time, it always provides for interesting party talk when friends introduce me as “the guy who wrote a book of poetry about porn”. Anyone who sticks around after that introduction tends to be pretty cool, generally speaking.
I’ve never thought of The Jill Kelly Poems as “confessional”. My poems aren’t nearly as “self-obsessed” as those of the traditional “confessional poets”; there is a notable absence of emotional hysterics, as well, and, ultimately, too many voices and discourses competing in the “I” of the poetic storm to be classified as such, I think. But resistance to a “confessional” classification is not an attempt on my part to distance myself from the poems’ material; the fact is, to be honest, whether the poems are classified as “confessional” or not, they’re still associated with a “self” that readers assume to be the “author”—that is, Alessandro Porco. This is especially true, historically speaking, when material is deemed questionable or objectionable because those who deem it so need a tangible object to absorb their blame and derision.
PM: “23 Haiku” and “King Kong’s Sonnet” are, in my opinion, the collection’s best pieces. Is it a coincidence these steer clear of porn and pop culture references and go more for the heart?
AP: First off, I’m glad you enjoyed those particular poems. While I’m more than proud to say I’ve written a book that, in part, addresses adult entertainment, I think it’s only fair to draw some attention to poems of the sort you mention. There are many scattered throughout the collection: for example, “I’m Ready Coach… Put Me In”, “My Boyfriend’s Obsessed with Larry Bird, and I’m Obsessed with Romance”, “The Lonely Street of Dreams”, or “Autobiographia Literaria as a Three-minute Short Film”. In truth, there are only 11 poems explicitly exploring adult entertainment.
PM: Who do you like reading—poets, lyricists, authors? Do you have a most inspiring moment of your writer-life?
AP: My favourite contemporary Canadian poets are easy enough to note, as only a very select few are worthy of your (or my) time: Christian Bök (Eunoia); Stephen Cain (Torontology); Jason Camlot (Attention All Typewriters); Lynn Crosbie (Queen Rat); Darren Wershler-Henry (The Tapeworm Foundry); Michael Holmes (Parts Unknown); David O’Meara (The Vicinity); David McGimpsey (Hamburger Valley, California); Peter Van Toorn (Mountain Tea); Suzanne Zelazo (Parlance)—that’s a top-ten list, of sorts, in alphabetical order, all fairly young writers; all very different as well, but of a high caliber.
Looking beyond contemporary Canadian poetry, there are the main-stays for me, those poets whose work never stops exciting my imagination: Lowell (more a Lowell of Lord Weary though); Eliot and Pound, naturally; the limericks of Edward Lear; Byron; Herrick and Donne; Virgil’s Eclogues—frighteningly conventional, this list, I’m afraid. I read much in the area of postmodern American poetry too: I’ve come to love Clark Coolidge’s The Maintains, as it makes me feel giddy; Charles Bernstein, too: his essays in particular; great sense of humor. The late-great Thom Gunn—wonderful! John Ashbery: his “Daffy Duck in Hollywood” is one of my favourite poems; as is Ron Silliman’s poem “Albany”. There’s a young American writer named Ben Doyle, his Radio, Radio knocks my socks right off. Scottish writer Don Paterson’s real cool too—his poem “Nil Nil” is so damn moving. Steve McCaffery’s an older Canadian poet when compared to those mentioned earlier; his Seven Pages Missing—Vol. 1 and 2 is important reading for everyone. I have to admit, too, I really like the early lyrics of Jorie Graham, especially the collection Erosion.
Of course, looking beyond Literature, as I believe every poet must do, I have a variety of “obsessions” (there’s that word again): the films of Martin Scorsese, especially Mean Streets; the late-great Russ Meyer; the classic Martin-Lewis flicks; Hong Kong action flicks; instrumental rock (Steve Vai—his 1990 album Passion and Warfare is a masterpiece); jazz guitarists (especially Mike Stern: listen to his version of the standard “There Is No Greater Love”); The Dan Patrick Radio Show on ESPN Radio; HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm; the stand-up comedy of Dennis Miller. I love Monday Night Football. I love Eminem’s “Ass Like That” (song and video). I really love country music, especially Dwight Yoakam.
PM: Are you happy with the response to the book? In the end, has been your overall objective with the collection and do you think you pilled it off?
AP: In Canada where, generally, poetry is viewed by its producers and consumers (ultimately, one in the same) as a “serious” cultural endeavor of the highest import, where poetry is viewed as transformative (as in, this makes me a better person), all that’s left to my poetry in terms of readership is a select niche group. And that’s fine by me. Thus, I am very pleased with the response to the book. It’s far beyond what I expected. What pleases me most, however, whatever the response—whether positive or negative—critics have always been generous enough to note some technical skill they see on display; that’s extremely gratifying.
The overall objective was, quite simply, to write a real cool book of poetry; a book that would allows readers to experience a sensibility otherwise alien—especially for poetry audiences. Funky rhymes and rhythms, funky language (slang, neologisms, song lyrics, sports casts); some bathos, some pathos, some nonsense. Stuff my friends could get into. That’s it… I don’t believe poetry can change the world. Anyone who says otherwise is completely ridiculous, farcical, pretentious; such an individual is in possession of not only an extremely dangerous, distorted view of the world but also of his subject position within it.
My favourite responses to the book, though, I should say, are from readers who, on occasion, either approach me to say (usually in whispered voice—especially if it’s a woman) something along the lines of “Hey, I like porn too!” (as if that was the password in order to gain access to the club-house) or “Jill Kelly’s good, but I prefer [insert your favorite adult-film star: Jenna Jameson, Silvia Saint, Ginger Lynn, Brianna Banks, Jezebelle Bond].” That second response is usually from dudes. I dig that.